Drawing rave blurbs from Richard Ford, Anthony Sofford, and George Pelecanos, Controlled Burn: Stories of Prison, Crime, and Men by Scott Wolvern straddles the line between the best of mystery/noir writing and literary fiction. Publishers Weekly conjured up the ubiquitous Hemingway reference for Wolven’s spare, unadorned prose and his boxing characters; but he’s also been compared to Denis Johnson and Thom Jones so those references might be a bit more appropriate. Wolven’s short fiction has appeared on numerous websites, including The Mississippi Review and PlotswithGuns. Ultimately, his stories caught the eye of Otto Penzlerand various other crime-author editors who selected Wolven’s work to appear in The Best of American Mystery Stories for three successive years.
In one of the most impressive stories, Outside Work Detail, a prisoner in a Vermont prison frets through his last days of confinement. While worried about making a wrong step that will jeopradize his release, he also despairs the freedom coming his way. In one of his last chores on the prison farm, the inmates has do pry through the frozen winter ground to dig a worthy ground for a deceased prisoner. “I was determined to give the man his full depth, but I couldn’t do it. At about three feet, I ran smack into several large rocks, none of which I could move with my shovel,” so the narrator just dumps the body in the shallow hole. “The snow was coming down so hard that when I looked back over the field I couldn’t make out the individual graves, or my own tracks coming out.”
Crank is another exciting story where the narrator says “My job was to move the packages around. Most of the biker bars in New Hampshire and Maine signed on after a sample. I even had one guy in a bar outside Portland ask me if it was Red Green’s stuff. People were staying up for months on the crystal I handed out. I took some of the crank myself, as much as I needed to complete deliveries. My blood caught fire as it kicked in. I was awake most of December, making runs from the barn in the deep snow. The guys that ran the plows bought from me and sent sparks off their blades as they smoked the icy roads.”
A stunning debut. Buy Controlled Burn: Stories of Prison, Crime, and Men here.